Tasty Thai food at Ithaca's Tamarind

April 19, 2014

Ithaca never seems to need more Thai restaurants in particular, or Asian restaurants in general, but sometimes a new one opens and is a quick success. This week, we're talking about Tamarind on Route 13. Just one of many Thai restaurants in Ithaca, this cozy restaurant opened about six years ago and offers good food at a reasonable price.

Tamarind's fish soup.Tamarind's fish soup.This old building along the northbound stretch of Route 13 has held several eateries over the last few decades, including a long-ago pizzeria we used to frequent. We're pleased to see it's been beautifully upgraded in the last few years, though, with an attractive dining room and modern restrooms.

Appetizers include a crispy vegetables platter, battered and fried bite-sized veggie chunks with a dipping sauce, not so different from a tempura or something you might find at the Glenwood Pines. Or the chicken satay, strips of grilled chicken on skewers with a spicy, peanutty sauce. 

On a cold day this past winter, we appreciated the tom yum seafood soup, served family style in a double-decker ceramic bowl featuring a flame in the lower bowl to keep the soup hot while our group shared it and came back for seconds. The soup is pleasantly tangy, with lots of mushrooms as well as a generous serving of seafood. (It's available with chicken, tofu, or shrimp, instead of seafood, as are most of the entrees on the menu.)

The nice folks at Tamarind made the pra ram long song for us with duck.The nice folks at Tamarind made the pra ram long song for us with duck.My favourite entree is the Pra Ram Long Song, a generous portion of your choice of chicken, pork, beef, tofu, shrimp, or mixed seafood served over a bed of spinach with a delicious and spicy peanut sauce, and the folks at Tamarind were happy to make this for me with duck, a perfect combination that I've enjoyed at Thai Cuisine in the past. Pad Thai with tofu was a delicate and sweet accompaniment, and the BBQ curry a fun sweet and spicy combination of flavours with red curry, coconut milk, bell peppers, and pineapple. 

Considering a friend and I split a pair of entrees and had lots left over, we suspect average diners who like sharing will do fine splitting one appetizer and one main dish for two people, or feeding bigger groups with not as many dishes as you'd expect to need.

As with most Asian eateries, vegetarians and carnivores alike can be happy at Tamarind, and you'll do fine even if you don't particularly like spicy food. Just ask for everything mild. If you do like spicy, I find that a 3 on their 1-5 scale is plenty spicy for my tastes -- and I'm the one who generally finds wings ordered hot seem kinda mild.

Tamarind added wine and beer to their menu a couple of years ago, but we're just as glad for the opportunity to stick to Thai iced coffee or Thai iced tea, strong-brewed versions of these beverages with sweetened condensed milk.

We were disappointed to learn in 2009 that the owner of both Tamarind and Taste of Thai (on the Commons near Simeon's) had admitted to "substantial labor law and wage violations," and owed tens of thousands of dollars to 36 workers. The owner has been repaying money owed to these workers. We don't like to think that our business contributes to unfair labor practices, but considering the problem came to light and was being addressed, we also don't want to stay away and reduce the earnings for the servers there. As long as management stays above-board, we're happy continuing to dine at Tamarind.

Plan on spending $12-25 per person on a meal. Find Tamarind at 503 North Meadow Street near Ithaca Bakery and Purity Ice Cream, visit tamarindithaca.com or call 277-2220 for delivery and tell them you heard about them here.

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